The drugs are missing and four lives are about to collide.
Clyde just wanted to make a little extra cash on the side to raise his new baby. Now his life and the lives of his wife and newborn daughter are in jeopardy.
Brent just wanted to do his job and be left alone. Now he’s in a race against time for his life.
Sean just wanted to escape the crime he committed in Detroit. Now he’s stumbled into another. The money he embezzled is nothing compared the load of narcotics that fell into his lap.
And Skeeter? Well, Skeeter wants the drugs back, and he’ll use any means necessary to get them.
When these four are let loose on a mad scramble to locate the drugs, they cut a path of mayhem and bloodshed across Virginia. Inept would-be criminals clash with ruthless drug dealers in a violent weekend where no one is safe.
The only certainty: Everyone is in over their heads.
Praise for Over Their Heads:
“Hard boiled pulp, hot off the press. The writing team of JB Kohl and Eric Beetner give the middle finger to polite crime writing and splatter the pages of Over Their Heads with foul mouthed, two-fisted action delivered in a hail of bullets. Neo-noir, transgressive fans will cheer. Drawing room mystery readers may need smelling salts. Don’t say you weren’t warned.”
—Anonymous-9, author of Hard Bite and Bite Harder
“Over Their Heads is a stripped down hot-rod of a novel. JB Kohl and Eric Beetner keep things fast and tight, with a gasp or a laugh on pretty much every page as an assortment of would-be badasses try to track down some missing drugs. It’s a comedy of errors, scored with the sound of gunfire.”
—Jake Hinkson, author of The Big Ugly
“Over Their Heads is a real tour-de-force from the writers that brought you One too Many Blows to the Head. A full-blown crime noir that will keep you on the edge of your seat!”
—Bill Craig, author of the Marlow Key West Mysteries
and the Decker P.I. mysteries
Pre-Order the Kindle edition for only $1.49 until June 1, 2015
If Madeline didn’t go into labor we’d be eating steak tonight. In a restaurant. Because I would have enough cash to take her out for a change. I’d have money for dinner and clothes and a vacation and enough left over for the baby’s college and graduate school—anything else our kid could want.
I rummaged through my sock drawer for a pair that matched. A wife at nine-and-a-half-months pregnant didn’t feel the best. In the past Madeline had been meticulous about organizing my sock drawer, folding and pairing them in neat rows. Those days were gone now, along with the days of creased khakis and starched shirts. My kind and beautiful wife had changed to someone pasty, swollen, and, yeah I’m gonna say it . . . bitchy.
For now, at least, she was asleep, hand resting over her protruding belly, mouth slightly open. In these moments, before she woke up and started to cry over her swollen ankles and nag me about the long hours I spent at the rental lot, before she opened her mouth and swore at me and the dick that happens to reside between my legs, which was clearly responsible for getting her in this predicament in the first place, marriage vows or no . . . in these moments when it was just me digging in my sock drawer for a mate to the only one I could find, when I picked up my khakis from the floor and shook out yesterday’s wrinkles . . . I would watch her sleep and she was just my wife, the woman I fell in love with.
I saw this movie once. It was one of those chick flicks I took her to on our last anniversary. Normally I don’t go in for that sort of thing, but it was our anniversary and that’s a time she tends to get sentimental and I’m almost always guaranteed sex. So I figure on those nights the least I can do is take her to a movie she wants to see, even if I have zero interest in it. I don’t even remember what the movie was about. Well, it was about a couple, that’s for sure, but the thing I remember is that the woman was pregnant. I mean hugely pregnant. And in one scene, the guy in that film bends over his just-about-to-pop pregnant wife and kisses her stomach. When that happened on the screen, next to me, in the theater, Madeline sighed and put her hand over her heart, and her breath hitched just the tiniest bit like it does when she is just about to cry or like when she watches those dog food commercials. That scene really got to her. I always remembered that moment, the moment in that movie when Madeline was moved by something so simple. We didn’t know it at the time, but she was already seven weeks pregnant and when we found out a week later and realized it was really, really real, I remembered that scene and played it out a hundred times in my head. I knew there would come a time when I’d lean over her and kiss her belly because it would make her happy. And, I don’t know, I guess I imagined myself whispering something profound and kind to her. So I had been biding my time, waiting until she was tired and heavy and hating being pregnant, because all the books told me that was exactly how it was going to be. I wanted it to be perfect. I guess the time never seemed perfect.
Because today I watched her with my socks in my hand, and just felt . . . tired. So I turned and walked out. I tiptoed so she wouldn’t wake up and I shut the door behind me as quietly as I could. Hollywood and that damn movie could kiss my ass. And so could the goddamn actress with the rail thin legs and a belly with no stretch marks. Madeline was a real woman. Despite it all, despite being Misery’s Deity at the moment, she was a real woman, the mother of my child. She was mine. And while this filled me with pride and gratitude, mostly these days I was filled with fear.
I toed through the pile of shoes at the front door, settling on a pair of bland loafers, and mentally ran over the day’s plans in my head.
ONE: Get to work, open the rental lot. If I was honest, this was my favorite part of every day. I liked the lot. It was mine. I had named it after myself, hadn’t I? Clyde McDowd Rentals was, in a way, my first kid. And now, after marriage and with a real, actual kid on the way, it was the one thing that was entirely mine. It was clean, organized, filled with files and the smell of the pink cleaning solution the janitor used late at night. It was white tile floor and fluorescent lights. It was the roar of airplanes taking off and landing at Richmond International. It was business men and families. And somewhere along the way, it started to bring in a lot more money than it should have. Which is why I really, really needed to be at work on time today.
I looked down at the scuffed loafer I had pulled from the pile of shoes. How could one couple own so many shoes? Even my shoes were something Madeline picked out for me. The house. The carpet. The paint. The towels in the bathroom. But Clyde McDowd Rentals? Not so, baby. Not so. I drifted into the kitchen and sank into one of the rickety wooden chairs at our vintage table and pulled on a sock.
TWO: Check to make sure the Chevy Tahoe was ready to go. The ceiling seams needed to be perfect, the packets had to be laying right, behind a soft, thin layer of sponge. I always put a pack of Winstons in the glove compartment for the driver. Never hurts to kiss a little ass, just in case. I froze with the sock halfway on. Shit. I forgot the Winstons.
THREE: Stop and pick up Winstons.
The mattress in the bedroom groaned as Madeline pushed herself up. The giantess hath awakened, I thought, not unkindly. Hell, if Madeline had been her normal, petite, good-humored self, she would have laughed too. And some day, I was sure I’d tell her my vision of her at nine months pregnant—an angry, towering woman crushing all in her path, and she would laugh and punch me in the arm and say she loved me.
I’d tell her about all of this one day and not just how grouchy she was. I’d tell her about everything I’d done for her, about everything I sacrificed, the risks I took, the plans I made for us, for our family.
Today was not going to be that day.
Today I shoved my feet in my shoes and popped a piece of bread in the toaster. I heard her approach from the other room and pasted a smile on my face. She opened the door and shuffled into the kitchen, her legs swollen, beautiful dark hair cascading down her back. My smile became a real one. No matter what, it was easy to love Madeline. All of it for you, I thought. “Want coffee?” I asked.
She didn’t answer but reached to the cupboard above the coffee pot, stomach resting on the counter, hands fumbling for filters and coffee beans. “Let me do that,” I said. “You sit down. Put your feet up.”
“It won’t help,” she said. “Nothing does. I’m a house.” She turned to look at me and I caught a glimpse of the clock on the stove at the same time I caught the look on her face. 7:45 on the clock. Worry on her face. Car lot opened at 8:00. I had been told to expect the driver any time after 8:10.
Christ on a cracker.
“You’re not a house,” I said, moving to hug her. She allowed the touch and rested her head on my shoulder. Her hair smelled like that really good shampoo she uses. 7:46.
FOUR: Move Chevy Tahoe to the back part of the lot under the maple that tended to shit sap on cars all day long. No one ever wanted to drive a sap-speckled car. It was another reason I put the Winstons in the glove box.
Madeline lifted her head from my shoulder and tried to smile. Then she burst into tears. I walked her to the table and sat her down. 7:47.
“I don’t know,” she said, her face in her hands. “I just don’t know. I feel like this is it. Like this kid is coming out of me today. I’m so tired.” She slumped forward and rested her head on her forearms. “I am not up to this today. My back hurts. And why didn’t we find out the sex?”
Because you didn’t want to. You said it was a good thing to be surprised. You said we wanted to experience the wonder of birth like they did in the old days. “We just didn’t,” I said. I ran a hand over her hair and kissed the top of her head. Then I pulled the filters from the cupboard, poured water in the coffee pot, and spilled coffee beans on the floor. 7:50.
Madeline looked at the beans. “I can’t clean that up. I can’t bend down and clean that up.” She sniffled and started crying again.
“You don’t have to, babe. I’ve got it.”
“Those are expensive beans, too.”
FIVE: Close shop doors at 5:00 p.m. and wait for instructions. At some point this evening, I would receive directions to the envelope containing a debit card and access to an account with my money. It was safer than cash and smarter, and I had done it a few times before already. This time was big, though. This was the last one, the one that would set us up forever.
I swept up the beans and tossed them in the trash. 7:52. I was late. There was no way I’d make it there in time.
I buttered the toast and spread peanut butter on it. Then I set it in front of Madeline and kissed her on the forehead. “I’ve got to make a call. I’ll be right back.”
I knew I should offer to stay with her, to sit and hold her hand and stroke her hair and reassure her. If she only knew that this was all for her. I stepped out onto the front stoop and auto dialed Brent’s cell.
There was fumbling as he picked up and a frazzled, “Yeah.”
“You at the office?”
I heard him clear his throat. “In the car in the Starbuck’s drive-through. Want anything?”
“Need you to open.”
“No. Listen. I need to you to open. This is important.”
I listened as Brent ordered a Venti Caramel Macchiato and then came back on the line. “You sure you don’t want something?”
“Right. Open the lot. Got it.”
“Shut the fuck up and listen to me, Brent. There’s a Chevy Tahoe near the front. I need you to jockey it to the back under the maple tree. Got it?”
“Chevy. Maple. Tahoe. That’s a shitty tree. What do you got against that car?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Just do it. Don’t fuck up. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I could almost hear Brent shrug through the phone. I had no idea what was worse. Having Madeline pissed at me or trusting the car arrangements to Brent. It’s like asking how do you want to die? Fire or drawn and quartered?
What the hell was up his ass? Clyde used to be such a great boss. I guessed it was the kid that had him on edge recently. I mean, I took the job because the hours were good, the pressure was low and the policy on smoking was lax.
I watched all those Hertz and Enterprise jerks running around in their matching shirts and scripted sales pitches and I thanked sweet Jesus that wasn’t me. Still never thought I’d be renting cars out at the airport. Beats digging ditches, as my dad always said.
I tried to understand what Clyde was going through though. A baby. That’s heavy. And him being a business owner. Entrepreneur. Sole breadwinner. I know I’m not ready for that yet.
I kept feeling like something had been up for a while now, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He would get all sweaty about once a month, giving orders on certain cars like this Tahoe now. When he told me his wife was pregnant I put two and two together. Lately, seemed like they added up to five.
Not my business, though. We were friends, sure, but his life was his and my life was mine. To each his own, as my mom used to say. They said a lot of stuff, my parents.
I opened the rental counter only five minutes late. Not bad for me. I’d almost finished refilling the brochure holders and the maps to Colonial Williamsburg, when the first customers of the day came in.
A family on vacation, cranky from the flight which must have left wherever they came from while it was still dark outside. I’d be cranky, too. A mom with short, sensible hair and twenty extra pounds around the middle. A dad with a bald top and a ring of sad looking wisps circling the rim of his skull. He toted about eighty extra pounds around his belt line. Eight a.m. and already sweating like a hog.
They pulled enough bags for a two-week trip and two kids who looked like puberty had run them down in the street driving a Sherman tank. A boy and a girl. They looked to be in the midst of a contest for which one could grow the most pimples. A dead tie so far, from what I could see.
“Morning. How can I help you?” I said. First one of the day gets my special “helpful guy” treatment.
Dad stepped in front of his depressing family and took charge. One look at him and I could tell the only time in his life he got to take charge of anything was with a pudgy, given-up wife and two kids destined to live out the rest of their lives waiting for their awkward phase to end. Congrats, Pops, you’re king of the royal family of kill-me-if-it-ever-happens-to-me.
“We have a reservation. Griffin.”
All business, this guy. Better than the chit chat of some jerk who got off an eight-hour flight and needed to vent about the shitty flight attendants and sub-standard food.
“Okay,” I said. “Let me pull up your reservation.”
I typed his name into the computer and his page came on screen. Another good thing about being with a small, independent rental company is we can pretty much count all the rentals on two hands in a day. There’s never a lot of searching for lost files around here.
“Here we go. Minivan, right?” As if I needed to look that up in the computer.
“Yes. Minivan. For two weeks.” His wife fanned him with a folded up map. I hoped his face didn’t turn any redder or I’d start to worry about the old guy having a heart attack in the lobby. The two sad sack kids stared blankly, the boy mouth-breathing through thick braces.
“That’s mileage included,” he sort of asked, sort of stated.
“Yes. Mileage included.” I’m sure it made him feel like a real provider, a real hunter/gatherer to this family of Cro-Magnons.
“Dad, I’m hungry,” the boy said.
“Yeah, me too,” the girl followed up. Really? These lard-asses hungry? You don’t say.
“We’ll get breakfast as soon as we’re out of here and on the road,” he said in that typical annoyed dad way. I bet he couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel so he could threaten them with the old, “If you don’t knock it off I’ll turn this car around and . . .” But if they were at an airport I doubted he was gonna drive them all the way home. Mileage or no mileage included.
“Where y’all from?” I asked while the rental form printed.
“Detroit,” he said, clipped and sharp to let me know that was all the information I would be getting out of him.
I nodded. I figured I didn’t need to tell him what a shithole he lived in, so I left it there.
“Here we are,” I said. I read him all the particulars; he declined the insurance. They all do. Anyone renting from us was a cheap bastard, so they all turned down the insurance. I got his info and offered to do the walk through of the van with him.
“I think I know how a minivan works,” he said.
“It’s more just to check for any damage to the vehicle so you won’t be liable upon return. And there may be a few things in the newer models you may not be familiar with.”
“Da-a-a-ad,” the boy said, his impatience showing like the big red zit on his nose.
“That’s fine, just tell me what spot it’s in and we’ll get going. We still have a drive ahead of us to get to the beach.”
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t let my dad pick us up,” the wife said.
“I’m not gonna rely on your parents to get us around. What if we want to take a day trip?” He didn’t hide his annoyance and I knew this was an argument that started back in Detroit.
“What day trips are we gonna take, Sean?”
“We at least want the freedom, Linda.” He spat out her name with such a fermented venom. That one word, her name, had been marinated in all the years of marriage and all the variations on this argument they’d ever had, which I took to be many.
“You’re in space twenty-three,” I said, still in my early morning fake cheeriness. Besides, the Griffin family provided me with some great theater to start the day. The Fighting Griffins starring in Sad Suburban Vacation: A Tragedy.
“Thanks,” he said and a bead of sweat broke loose from his empty forehead and ran down his nose to splash on my counter. If he saw it, he ignored it. The whole wheezing, squeaking mass of them turned as one and rolled out pushing, pulling and toting luggage almost as square as they were.
I sat back down, wiped the drop of sweat away with a napkin and lit my first smoke of the day, thankful my life wasn’t as soul-crushing and shitty as that guy and his dumb-ass family. For me, right then behind the rental counter on a sunny Virginia day—payday no less—life was looking pretty good.
Despite being late, despite the forgotten cigarettes and the ten minute wait at the Gas ’N Gulp to pick them up, despite Madeline’s tears, I smiled when I pulled into the lot. It was a scorcher of a day already. Jets were screaming a half mile away at the airport, and my lot was ready for renters.
The lot had it all: compacts, sub-compacts, convertibles, SUVs, luxury sedans, mid-size sedans and coupes, luxury coupes, mini vans, and full size vans. I had been considering adding RV rentals as well, but it was likely to be a couple of years before I was feeling ambitious enough for that. I needed to do more homework on the demand, and with the kid soon to be born, I wasn’t eager to undertake any additional responsibility. Besides, I was spread a little too thin as it was.
I didn’t look for the Tahoe under the maple. It was early and Brent would have parked it where I told him. He might be a grumbler, but he could be counted on to do what he was told. When I walked in, he stood at the twin filing cabinets in the front of the office, stuffing a rental agreement into a drawer.
“Remember your alphabet,” I said. “A, B, C.”
“Yeah. I got it.” He gave a half smile. He acted pissed, but he was really shitty when it came to filing stuff. I kept him around because, in addition to doing what he was told, he didn’t ask many questions and he didn’t seem too interested in what I did when I wasn’t standing right next to him. In fact, he seemed to try really hard to avoid me sometimes, which was just fine these days. The less we saw of one another, the better.
“Anyone come in?”
He gave me a gesture that was half shrug, half nod. “Family from Detroit. Gave’em a minivan.”
I smiled. “Historic triangle, Busch Gardens, or Civil War memorials?”
He shrugged and picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated he kept under the counter. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”
I wanted to tell him to do something besides stand there, but the truth was we were a tight ship. We filed everything right away, kept things well-ordered, had a cleaning lady come in every night to spruce things up and keep the tiles their whitest.
An airport shuttle pulled up and a couple stepped off, a woman in an Ally McBeal knock off suit and stiletto heels. The guy wore a dark suit and designer sunglasses and gave me one of those chin jerks that is supposed to be a nod. I head jerked back at him. “Good morning,” I said.
“Need a sports car.” He smiled. The woman acted bored and drummed her fingers on the counter. I pegged them as business associates and bed partners. She wore a wedding ring. He didn’t. Not my business, but I always liked to speculate anyway.
My cell phone pinged, so I gestured for Brent to take over and I stepped to the back to answer.
“It’s time. I told you it was going to be soon. I need you to come and get me.” Madeline was puffing out short breaths, the breathy huffs were loud in my ears.
“How far apart are the contractions?”
“I don’t know. Seven minutes? Five? Just get here.”
I hung up and gestured for Brent to step away from the couple.
“Madeline is in labor,” I said.
“Cool. Congrats, man. Go on. I got it here.”
“Yeah. Look. I need you to get that Tahoe to the right guy today. He’s a VIP and he wants that car.”
“The one under the maple?”
“Yeah. Look. Make sure he gets it.” I laid the Winstons on the counter. “Put these in the glove box.”
“Fine.” He turned back to the couple.
I grabbed his arm. “Brent, listen. It is very important that car goes to the right customer. Do you understand?”
“Yes. Geez. I got it. Tahoe. Tree shit. Right guy. Go. Have a baby. I’ve got work to do.”
I stood there for a minute, wondering how angry Madeline would be if I waited until the Tahoe was off the lot before picking her up. Brent was back at the counter with the couple, his head bent over the paper forms I still hadn’t gotten around to computerizing yet. The Tahoe was where it was supposed to be, Brent would make sure the smokes were in the glove box, and Madeline was in labor. Shit.
I walked back outside, climbed into my car, and drove toward home.
Clyde left in a hot panic. Can’t say I blame him. I can’t even believe he had space in his head for some special reservation when his wife is in labor, but I guess if it were my name on the business, I’d want everything to go right, too.
Before the dust even settled from Clyde’s sprint out the door, the Griffin family came back. Same dumpy Midwestern foursome pulling their same beige luggage and their same fat asses. This couldn’t be good.
“Mr. Griffin, you’re back,” I said, trying to be cheery before the shit storm I knew was coming my way.
“That car you rented me,” he said. “It smells.” Then he added, “Bad,” in case I thought he’d come back to compliment us on the floral scent of our air fresheners. We don’t use air fresheners. You get what you get.
“I’m so sorry about that.”
“Smells like ass,” the boy said. His mother immediately shushed him with a small slap to the back of the head. I could see the embarrassment on her face for her son and her husband. I could imagine the argument in the van before turning around, her all, “It’s fine, just drive,” and him all, “I won’t pay for a car that smells like ass.”
“We want a new one,” he said. He stuck out his chin, such as it was, and acted entitled. I took a deep breath, working hard to keep it together.
“Of course. No problem.” I sounded less like a smiley glad hand and more like a waiter about to go back to the kitchen and spit in his food. I checked the roster of vehicles, of which there aren’t many on our lot. No more minivans. “I’m afraid, Mr. Griffin,” I started. I saw him already tense up, planning his rebuttal. “That was our last minivan.”
“That’s not my problem.” His face glowed red and tiny beads of sweat dotted his forehead all the way back across his dome. “The van you gave me smells like something died in the air conditioning unit and it’s obvious someone was smoking in there. We specifically asked for a non-smoking car.”
He hadn’t, since that wasn’t one of our options, but the customer is always right. Often times a humongous dick, but always right.
“Well,” I said as I checked the list of cars. “I can give you a four door sedan.”
“No, that won’t do. We need the storage. Can you not see the bags we have with us?”
“Sean . . .,” his wife tried to calm him down, but not trying very hard in case he turned his anger on her. She knew the drill.
“No, Linda, we won’t be treated like this. This is our vacation. I’m not driving around in a car that smells like a public toilet and I’m not driving around in some Japanese shoebox. We’re from goddamn Detroit for Christ sake.”
“Kids, you come with me,” Linda said as she ushered the kids away from Daddy’s tantrum.
I balled up my fists, let them loose again and tried talking myself out of using them on this jerk wad. I promised Clyde I wouldn’t have another incident like that again. The last guy I punched sued us. Almost won too, if he hadn’t been drunk. After that, Clyde installed the security camera, but I think that was as much to check up on me than any rude customers.
“I want that one,” he said. He pointed a fat finger at the black Chevy Tahoe I hadn’t had a chance to move yet.
“I do have an SUV you can have, Mr. Griffin. Let me just get it from around back and run it through the washer—”
“I want that one.” God, throw a diaper on this guy and he’d be a three hundred pound baby.
“That one is already reserved.”
“Again, not my problem. You said you had another one, give it to them. I’ve already been delayed enough. I’m not going to sit around your shitty airport while you wash another stink bomb of a car when a perfectly good, clean one is right fucking there.”
I saw the mom put a hand over one of each kid’s ears.
I wanted to punch this guy more than I’ve ever wanted to punch someone before in my life, but not more than I wanted to keep my job, so fuck it. Let him have the damn thing. The sooner he left, the sooner I could wash up the other Tahoe and give Clyde’s special repeat customer guy a twin of the Tahoe outside.
“You’re right,” I said. The thing they all want to hear. “I’ll change the paperwork for you, no need to sign anything else. You have a nice day.” I lifted the keys from the desk where Clyde had set them and traded Mr. Griffin for the minivan keys, then I secretly wished for the Tahoe to blow a tire, run off into a ditch, catch fire and trap him and his fat fucking family inside the burning wreckage where they could all sizzle to death like the chubby little sausage links they were.
I smiled the whole time I handed over the keys, but as soon as he turned his back I gave him the finger. I made sure the security camera could see it.
Pre-Order the Kindle edition for only $1.49 until June 1, 2015